I have always enjoyed practicing yoga outside. The breeze, the blue sky, and the sunshine are all supportive of feeling present and energized. When I first began hearing about goat yoga, I knew it would be a fun way to practice.
On my search for an opportunity to practice yoga outside with adorable goats running around, I discovered Goatlandia ( www.goatlandia.og ). Goatlandia is a farm animal rescue sanctuary in the outskirts of Santa Rosa. Many of the animals arrived on the property after last year’s fires. From the minute Nicole Heslip, a devoted Yoga Mountain yogini and dear friend, drove up the gravel driveway, I had a feeling we were going to have a unique experience.
We set up our mats outside on a deck under an expansive oak tree and were told to snuggle and pet the goats as much as we’d like as we practiced. There were goats of all sizes and breeds that joined our yoga class. The large horns and hooves of the full-grown goats were a little intimidating, but these goats are used to people. They were curious about us, but also about the stash of feed the teacher, Alana, passed out at the beginning of class. We scattered the food around our mats and were greeted with hooves and bleats while om’ing and flowing.
Alana would lure the goats back with leaves from the nearby trees if they wandered off. Yes, it was distracting practicing while goats were running around, but the play and smiles was what I had primarily come for anyway. Everyone was laughing during the class and the joy was amplified by our beautiful surroundings.
One of my favorite parts was cuddling the tiny three-legged baby goat named Poppy. She was rescued from a facility were the vet couldn’t bear to put here down. Now she runs freely at Goatlandia and greets visitors with her sweetness.
Yoga and animals go together in my mind. The unconditional love that animals share and their natural presence are a perfect match for the practice of mindfulness and the cultivation of an open heart. Cats love to roll around on our mats as we stretch and breath. Dogs lick our faces as we lie back in Shavasana. And, well, goats like to jump on any unsuspecting down dogger. It’s a perfect match!
Sometimes it's the simple pleasure of standing upright with awareness that is the pinnacle pose in our yoga practice. "Fancy" poses can be fun but aren't always accessible. My knee injury -going on 1 year now- has taught me this. All abilities can find joy in the aliveness of their moving and breathing bodies. Actually awareness comes first. All the rest is icing on the cake of presence and love.
Tonight a student joined my yoga class who hadn't consciously moved her body in 12 years. After multiple spinal surgeries and an autoimmune condition, she just stopped doing anything except the necessary- walking from car to door, sitting at work, etc. As the gentle yoga class progressed, I could see her fear melt, connection grow, and softness settle in. Her tears of joy were my gift as her guide. She arrived in her body. She returned home. It can be that simple. The compassion and understanding I felt for this woman bloom from my own dance with injury.
I used to be the hyper bendy yogini that others in class would steal inquisitive glances at during practice. I felt like my body had no limitations. I would trail run or mountain bike for hours without so much as a trace of soreness or fatigue. I was a disciplined gymnast before becoming a yogi. Once I hit the mat at the ripe age of 18, I could twist or jump or lift into just about any pose I tried. One armed handstand. Fun! Drop backs. Smooth as silk.
My asana practice now, with some pretty major limitations, is richer and deeper than ever before. Why? It is because I am connected to the moment in an entirely different way. My full presence- at least on most days- lands with my body on my meditation cushion or yoga mat. My forced slowing down has also beautifully tuned me in. Awareness of how I'm moving not simply what I'm aiming toward creates immense pleasure and fulfillment. I would dare say even more than finally getting into the ever elusive full lotus handstand.
I don't want to live with knee pain for the rest of my life, but for now I am grateful. I am grateful for this wise teacher who has shown up at the perfect time to open the door to the subtle layers of yoga. I view my practice in a whole new light. It's an absolute privilege to have this body even with its pains. The emotional and mental aspects of each pose and each breath are more alive then ever before. I used to push, where now I soften. I wait for my body's invitation to deepen or back off. I see and feel these very real boundaries and honor them. Just like my student who came home to her body after so long, I have come home too. What began as struggle has culminated in greater freedom. This after all, is the ultimate fruit of practice.
Holiday Self Care 2016
As the Holidays approach and our obligations increase, often our self care routines are the first to feel the effects of the time crunch. When we prioritize our To Do list over our own personal needs, we can get a lot "accomplished" but how do we feel at the end of the day? Tired? Ungrounded? Disconnected?
Here are some simple ways to be both productive while treating ourselves with kindness and care.
Don't rush in the morning. Prep lunches, lay out clothes, clean the kitchen after dinner, and put things by the front door that you need to remember to take with you. This goes a LONG way to setting the tone for your day. Even if you have to move quickly, you'll need to do less which cuts down on morning chaos. You might even be able to enjoy a slow cup of coffee or tea. Even just 5 minutes to sit quietly and just be with your morning warm drink can soothe your nervous system at a deep level. Try feeling your breath as you sip. Be mindful of the pleasant sensations and flavors as you drink. If you've indulged in wine or alcohol the night before, try warm water with a half lemon squeezed in. This will support your liver and digestion.
Learn to say NO. I am a people pleaser so this is one of my most challenging self care tips. When I was first practicing saying no, I would panic. Now, with practice, I can see that I don't loose friends, the world doesn't stop turning, and I'm actually much happier setting these boundaries. On Sunday evening, I write a list of the week's obligations. I go down the list and star the items that are top priority. I say to myself, "Is this absolutely necessary" and/or "Can someone else do this instead of me?" Then if possible, I cross a couple of items off my list or ask someone else to take it on... like my husband. :)
Take an hour to play. Yes, your yoga class or meditation group counts as play. At least in my mind. Play helps you unwind, enjoy life, and provides perspective. Schedule in your hour or so once or twice a week of doing something nourishing for yourself and make it as important as any other meeting or appointment. Don't cancel and don't be late. Get that massage. Take a walk with a friend. Create art. Chat on the phone. Watch your favorite show or movie. Window shop or people watch. Your mind literally NEEDS this unstructured time to digest, repair, and turn on other parts for balance and sanity.
Weave in inspiration into your day. I am a big fan of author and researcher Brene Brown and have listened to all of her audiobooks. When I'm driving, I turn on one of her books about courage or embracing imperfection and let her words sink into my mind. The same thoughts that circulate over and over are interrupted and replaced by words of wisdom and inspiration. Other audiobooks I love are anything from Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, and Elizabeth Gilbert. I also listen while I'm cooking, gardening, and cleaning the house. I download them to my phone, put in my headphones, hit play, and poof! I'm in my own little world getting things done but also taking care of my mental health at the same time.
Be kind. Before bed, try to take a moment to feel gratitude for something that happened during the day. Don't obsess over the things that didn't get done but rather recognize what you did accomplish. Or just be grateful the day is over. This moment of gratitude is an act of kindness toward yourself because it's sending the message that you are enough. Gratitude goes hand in hand with acceptance. This practice will set you free in SO many ways!